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Scenic Area landowners await buy-out

One year ago, the deadline passed for some Gorge landowners to get relief from property down zoned under the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

Until March 31, 2001, owners of Special Management Area designated properties could offer their land for sale to the federal government and have appraisals based on its pre-Act value. After that date the land would be valued on its more limited developable use.

In 2000, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., pushed through the legislation to stop years of wrangling over Scenic Area land appraisals.

The U.S. Forest Service now has $7 million out in offers on "high priority" SMA properties, with 77 parcels topping the list of 185 offers. The first choice sites have been identified as "sensitive," because of natural habitat, view location, and cultural or scenic value, according to Mike Ferris, spokesman for the Forest Services' Scenic Area office.

The latest round of offers includes 2,359 acres in Skamania County, Wash., 415 in Klickitat County, Wash., 579 in Wasco County, 171 in Clark County, 180 in Hood River County and 480 in Multnomah County.

Forest Service officials are lobbying Congress for another $30 million to buy the offered 3,500-4,000 acreage before it reverts to the less regulated General Management Area zoning, as mandated under the Act. Ten million in funding for Scenic Area land acquisition has been requested in the president's budget for fiscal year 2002. If passed, that monetary amount would be the largest one-year appropriation ever received in the Scenic Area and the highest in the country.

Since the passage of the Scenic Act in 1986, the federal government has spent $47 million to buy 35,527 acres Gorge-wide.

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(In Saturday's issue, the Hood River News will take a closer look at controversies within the land aquisition program, in Part II of "Scenic Area Sales").

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